The Caymanian culture

Good life

This thing about ‘Cayman has no culture’ is a lot of nonsense.

If you live here long enough, and pay attention, you will see that these are people with distinctive characteristics. For example:

• Caymanians don’t like to make a fuss, or show off. They’re very careful not to come across that way. Some years ago, when I was cranking up Batabano here, I was explaining a costume to this Bodden Town lady, and she put her hand up at one point and said, ‘Hold on. I don’t want to look foolish, you know.’

• They love their cars with a passion and hate to see them with a dent or looking dirty. If the back of your van is dusty, complete strangers will leave a ‘wash me’ message on the glass. Some Caymanians have even been seen getting out of their car in the middle of the day to buff off some little dirt spot. Education Minister Alden McLaughlin admits he used to wash his first new car not only every afternoon, but sometimes on lunch hour, too.

• Caymanians shy away from public conflict. They will sit with you in a contentious committee or board meeting saying very little, but then buttonhole you later in the parking lot and regale you with a tirade. ‘Well, why didn’t you speak up in the meeting?’

‘No, man. I don’t want to cause no trouble.’

• While it may be fading among the younger set, there is generally a strong connection to nature. Fishing from the shore or just getting around in a small boat and trolling is as natural to them as walking, and they talk about cultivating ‘ground’ as people in North America would talk about going to the race track or a football game. It’s not work, for them; it’s fun.

• Sense of humour about the old days runs through them. If you live here long enough, and you don’t stay in your ivory tower, sooner or later you’ll be told several times about the first car to East End (the joke about it being fed bottlers), and also the taxi driver’s comment (when a tourist asked ‘How do you spell breadfruit?) that ‘We don’t spell breadfruit, we eats it.’ Mr. Ormond told me that 20 years ago, and I’ve heard it a dozen times since.

• Meeting a new person, almost immediately they want to know your family history. I’ve made several friendly jokes about Linford Pierson in Rundown with his ‘How’s your Mama?’ greeting, but like most good humour pieces this one is very true. Caymanians want to know right away what family tree you spring from, and what your place on it is, and it’s not just idle curiosity. If you think about it, knowing a person’s family almost instantly provides a wealth of information on the caliber and potential of the person. It is time-tested HR information.

• They’re not pushy, and they don’t like people who are. Mind you, in keeping with the point about conflict above, they won’t come out and tell you so, but if Caymanians aren’t warming up to you – once you’ve ruled out bad breath – it’s probably because you’re pushy.

• While they’re initially welcoming, they don’t get very close to newcomers easily – it can take more than a decade.

The first year I was in Cayman, Colin Panton, with whom I’d become friends, told me, ‘You can come here, be married to Angela, have children, live here for 25 years, we still won’t accept you; your children, perhaps, but not you.’ By ‘accept you’, he meant culturally.

Most Caymanians will address you as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ and young people will call you ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am.’ It’s a very warming thing – visitors to the island remark on it – and I hope it never dies out. When you’re here a while, if you’ve earned their respect, you’re then addressed with your first name attached to the title – ‘Mr. Dave’, ‘Miss Carol’, etc. The next stage in acceptance – this comes after 15, 20 years – is when the men folk address you by your first initial only, ‘How yuh goin’ D?’ When you hear that, they’ve really taken to you. The ultimate indication of Caymanian acceptance, however, is the stage where they don’t say anything when they see you but just nod and laugh. That tells you it is OK to marry their daughter.

Oh, a final one.

• In social gatherings, Caymanians will graciously give you their place in the line for curried goat, fried chicken, conch, etc., but it’s a different story for turtle or heavy cake: then the position is usually ‘Get in line, bobo.’ So for turtle, in particular, if they wave you into the line ahead of them, you’ve really made it here; you can even divorce their daughter and you’re still all right.

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